By Leslie Hittmeier
Sometimes skiing sucks. It sucks that we are inspired to pursue dangerous feats that can pluck us from our friends and family with one wrong decision. It sucks that the premier athletes in our community have to push the boundaries and skirt the line to do what makes them feel alive. We are “so stoked!!” for those who succeed, yet eager to condemn those who make mistakes that result in detrimental losses. There is a lot wrong with it, really. But there is a lot right with it too. In the end we all just love the mountains. And we love skiing in them even more. We are addicted to the sport that sets us free. And no matter how careful we are, shit happens, people we love and look up to die, and we have to do our best move on.
A legend died yesterday. And three snowsports legends died on this day last year. Today we remember Erik Roner, JP Auclair, Andreas Fransson, and Liz Daley.
Erik Roner died in a skydiving accident yesterday. He was part of a four-man team performing at the opening ceremony of the Fourth Annual Squaw Valley Institute Celebrity Golf Tournament. Roner’s team landed safely, but he died when he struck a tree. The accident was absolutely horrific. And Roner’s death has left many of us grieving and wondering why.
Roner was known around the world for being on MTV’s Nitro Circus, but most of us knew him from skiing with him. Our editor in chief Kim Beekman can’t say she knew him well, but she skied with him at Deer Valley and remembers how incredibly nice, humble, and genuine he was. And it seems that’s the general consensus. He was a joy to watch on screen, skiing in 11 different TGR films. He completed hundreds of notable ski-base descents in his lifetime and seemed to love every second of it.
But perhaps most importantly, Roner was a husband and a father. He left behind a wife, Annika, a daughter, Kasper, and a son, Oskar.
On this day last year, skiing icons, JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson died. The were caught in an avalanche while trying to ski a 3,000-foot couloir on Cerro San Lorenzo, a 12,158-foot peak on the border of Argentina and Chile. The avalanche released above them as they were booting up the couloir and carried them 2,000 feet down onto the crevassed glacier at the base of the mountain. The two skiers left behind an incredible legacy.
We remember Auclair for helping develop the twin tip, a design that propelled freestyle skiing to be what it is today. We also remember him for co-founding Armada, a company that builds real skis for real athletes. We also remember his unforgettable segments in ski films over the last 10 years, especially his now-heartbreakingly beautiful street segment from Sherpa Cinema’s All I Can. We remember Alpine Initiatives, a non-profit he started that connects our mountain sports community with community-service projects around the world. We remember his soul, and how much we all loved watching him ski.
Andreas Fransson wasn’t as well-know around the world. He wasn’t in ski films and he didn’t help start a world-renowned ski company. But if you lived in Chamonix, you knew his name. He was a Swedish ski bum and an accomplished ski-mountaineer that absolutely crushed steeps. He became one of Auclair’s mentors after Auclair made the move to Europe to be with his girlfriend.
Aside from steep skiing, Fransson was known for his mind-bending descent of Denali’s south face. In his blog, Life From a Different Angle, he wrote about his spirituality in the mountains as well as his decision-making process: “Most importantly, I start meditating on the feelings and keep on collecting arguments favoring both sides of the inner discussion. If I have a bad gut feeling in the mountains I turn around straight away, but if it’s during a project, then I become a collector of values.” And, “We have to get on with our lives whatever happens. It sounds so definite, and sometimes we want to respect others by choosing to feel bad, but that is a choice, nothing more and nothing less.”
Today, filmmaker and adventurer, Bjarne Salén, released unseen footage of Auclair and Fransson doing what they did best.
On that same day, we lost another icon. Liz Daley, professional climber, AMGA-certified mountain guide, and snowboarder died while descending Cerro Vespignani, a 7,000-foot peak near the well-known Mount Fitzroy.
Daley was known for her warm and outgoing personality, her smile, and for holding her own in the mountains. I mean seriously, how many female AMGA splitboarding guides are there in this world? She was supported by Patagonia, Jones Snowboards, Jublo, Arcade Belt, Petzl, Karakoram, and Eddie Bauer. Daley held many first female splitboard descents in Washington like the Coleman Headwall on Mount Baker, the northwest couloir on Mount Shuksan, the north face of the Northwest Ridge on Mount Adams, the Kautz Headwall on Rainier, and many more.
Daley left behind a fiancé, Dave De Masi, and so many friends that have kept her alive in spirit. A scholarship fund was created to support women who “Live Like Liz,” and the saying has become widely used by both men and women in our community. The Liz Rocks Campaign was created with a mission to build a rock climbing and bouldering wall in Daley’s hometown of Tacoma. SheJumps created a scholarship in honor of her for their Alpine Finishing School, an all-women’s ski mountaineering course. Daley was a true adventurer, a woman who lived to be in the mountains. She is very missed.
All we can say is thank you to JP, Andreas, Erik, and Liz for inspiring our community, and following your dreams.